Retirement Practice

It’s cold and dreary outside. Not a good day for a bike ride. Or a hike. Or much of anything outdoors. I am trying to find things to do. It occurs to me, I had better get used to this. Soon I will be retired. For the first time in my life I face the interesting challenge of having to come up with my daily schedule on my own. This is likely to be doubly difficult since the overwhelming majority of people I know will still be working. Anyway, somebody else has been calling the shots for most of the last 55 years. Now it’s my turn. It’s actually a fairly daunting prospect. I wouldn’t mind learning an instrument, taking a language course (Spanish, ASL), taking  a bike repair course. All are things that I could have done in the last few empty nest years and haven’t. The reason is that, other than hiking and biking, I am a sloth. Yeah, well….

Today’s schedule will include comparing my bikes with a tape measure. Sounds exciting, no? Bicycling is no fun when your bike doesn’t fit properly. Right now I have two that fit that description.

I have yet to dial in the fit on my Cross Check. I loved riding it when I first bought it but it wrecked my body when I got off the bike. Sad face. The Mule recently got new handlebars. I think in the process of working on it, the bike shop inadvertently changed my saddle height a tad. And the handlebars have a slightly different reach to them. So the fit, which was dialed in, is now a bit off. Fortunately, the set up on my Bike Friday, which was custom made to mimic The Mule of old, is unchanged. So it’t time to compare and tweak. Little changes make a huge difference. Pro tip: if someone tells you that your saddle is an inch too low, raise it in increments of no more than 1/4 of an inch. A one inch increase will almost certainly cause problems in your knees, back or neck. Also, as you move your saddle up, you’ll might actually find a sweet spot that you’d otherwise miss.

The rest of my day will be taken up with reading back issues of magazines that have accumulated on my nightstand as I read a stack of books received for Christmas. I also received season one of House of Cards so that’s probably worth a plowing through before baseball season starts. And there’s always the time sucking bald eagle cam.

Unfortunately none of these activities helps with my ever growing body size. (Seefood diets are not a good idea during the winter months.)  I read often about people who do a cleansing of their bodies. This usually involves eating nothing but fruit and veggies and other good things, sometimes combined with some sort of yogic practice. For me a cleansing comes when I do my first long ride of the spring. It’s usually a daylong ride.  I don’t ride it particularly fast. And I am not looking to ride massive hills. The benefit comes in the unrelenting effort over many hours. I am typically exhausted at the end, but  this day of self abuse resets my metabolism.  It has never failed me. I will probably do one of these rides in a week or two. Maybe out to Whites Ferry. Or do an out and back on a long rail trail.

I hear we have a second eaglet. Time for some mindless viewing….


Dialing It In

Whenever you ride a new bicycle, there is a period during which you make adjustments. You figure out which adjustments to make by reading the pain in your body. The simplest adjustment is seat height. If your seat is too low, the backs of your knees will hurt. If it is too high, the front of your knee (or more likely just below the knee) will hurt. I measured the distance between the crank axles and the saddle on The Mule and set the Corss Check’s saddle at the same height.

Other adjustments to the back end (so to speak) are the fore/aft position of the saddle and the tilt of the saddle. I use the identical tilt on my other bikes so I can use a level to ensure that the tilt on the Cross Check’s saddle is correct. I also know that my Brooks saddles are always shoved as far back as possible. This is partly because the rails on Brooks saddles narrow toward the front of the saddle making extreme rearward positioning pretty much impossible. (You can force the issue but the saddle rails almost surely will break. This happened to me when riding down a big hill in the Catskills. It was an interesting experience.)

The front end of the bike can be adjusted as well. You can raise or lower your handlebars and rotate them up or down. Finally, you can swap out the stem (the horizontal piece that connects the steering tube to the handlebars) for a longer or shorter one.

After 160 or so miles, my knees were happy. My buttocks were happy. My hands were happy. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that my neck and shoulders were decidedly not happy. And my lower back was aching 30 miles into every ride.

I measured the distance between my handlebar’s brake hoods (the tops of the brake levers where I usually rest my hands) and the saddle (using the center hole in my Brooks saddles which are identical on all three bikes). I compared the measurements on the Cross Check and The Mule. The Cross Check was a couple of centimeters longer than The Mule. So I tilted the handlebars up and to the rear, just a bit. The distance was still longer but I had cut it by two-thirds. Then I went for a ride.

This helped quite a lot. My lower back seemed happier. I was no longer reaching (and extending my back) to get to the brake hoods. My neck and shoulders were still not thrilled.

So I raised the handlebars a bit. This is really easy. You take the spacer on the top of the stem and move it beneath the stem.

I took this configuration for a 12 mile ride. No problems. So I think I have made some progress.

Past experience tells me that the adjustments are not over. It took me 7,000 miles of fiddling to dial in Little Nellie. Similarly, The Mule once had a lower rise stem. Time made my back less flexible so I put a higher rise stem on it.

So I suspect I may need to try a shorter stem. I did this on Little Nelle only to eventually return to a longer stem. Sometimes your body adapts, I suppose.